If you're getting pulled over by a police officer and things continue past the normal routine traffic stop, you might be wondering: is it actually legal for the police to search your car? Do they need some special clearance, or are they able to look into your personal property any time they feel like they want to? The United States Constitution provides some important protection in the laws stated in the Fourth Amendment, but they may not apply in some cases. Having a good knowledge of how the law works and what protections have been put in place for your privacy is important to know before an incident occurs. If you've ever been curious about what rights you have when it comes to an automobile search, look no further:
Refusing to Allow a Search
In every situation involving a car search, the police officer is required to make you aware of their intent of the search before starting it. In other words, they can't just barge into your car without you knowing about it even happening. What most people do not know, however, is that citizens do have the right to refuse that search—and the officer on site must comply with your wishes.
Additionally, the policeman is not required by any law to explain to you that you have the right to deny the search. Because of this fact, many individuals simply step out of the car, allowing the officer to look through their vehicle's contents when they could have legally kept their privacy.
Items in Plain View
There are certain moments and situations that allow an officer of the law to search your car legally, with or without your permission. If you have an illegal item (drugs, open container of alcohol, illegal weapons, etc) in plain view of the officer who has pulled you over, you can't expect to simply tell them they aren't allowed to search your car.
Additionally, any obvious smells like marijuana or alcohol on your breath that raises suspicion of the policeman can lead to a legal search of your entire car. The difference between the "plain view" incident versus having a legal right to refuse a search is this: in the first situation, the officer has an obvious suspicion that criminal activity is occurring—while in the second, there's no evidence of any lawbreaking happening at all, and the officer simply wants to see if they can find anything.
If you need legal counsel regarding a traffic stop or a vehicle search, make sure to contact an attorney from a firm like Williams Heinl Moody & Buschman, P.C.